After a convincing victory over Florida State in the Rose Bowl, No. 2 Oregon will look to win their first national championship when they face No. 4 Ohio State on Monday in the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Ducks enter the title game as 7.5-point favorites.
It won’t be easy for Oregon, as Ohio State will have a great deal of momentum and confidence. Ohio State defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, 42-35, and put up 537 total yards against a Crimson Tide defense that was considered among the most imposing in the nation. Urban Meyer’s squad has failed to score 31 or more points just once this season. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes’ defense shut out two opponents this season, and held three others to 17 points or less.
Oregon is still expected to the win the title and there are multiple reasons why.
A major reason for Oregon’s success has been winning the turnover battle. They certainly forced Florida State into mistakes, as the Seminoles often looked careless and overzealous with five turnovers. But the Ducks have forced other teams into such mistakes. In their five victories over ranked opponents, Oregon forced a total of 15 turnovers. The Buckeyes enter the game with sophomore Cardale Jones at quarterback, who has just two starts on his resume, so pressuring Jones could be crucial for the Ducks. The quarterback has thrown four touchdowns and one interception since taking over for J.T. Barrett.
Offensive Line has Over-Achieved
While Marcus Mariota and Royce Freeman deserve credit for many of their exciting plays this season, the offensive line is responsible for much of Oregon’s success. There have been multiple combinations used in the front five this season due to injuries, but Hamani Stevens has been excellent in different roles. Mark Helfrich’s squad has also relied on right tackle Tyler Crosby in the final games of the season, and the freshman has come through, opening holes for the running game. Senior center Hroniss Grasu returned for the Rose Bowl after a leg injury and showed little signs of rust.
Most experts expect Mariota to forego his senior season and enter the 2015 NFL Draft, meaning the Heisman Trophy winner will likely be playing his final collegiate game. Mariota has pounded opponents over the last four games, averaging 335.25 passing yards and 51.75 rushing yards. He has also thrown for 11 touchdowns and just one interception, and has rushed for seven touchdowns. Playing under the national spotlight, and in perhaps his last game for the Ducks, Mariota should be in top form, having totaled seven touchdowns and one interception in three bowl games . He will also be playing in the stadium of his favorite team growing up, the Dallas Cowboys.
Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith is capable of torching defensive backs, and many think he will do the same against Oregon with star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu sidelined. Jameis Winston, despite his turnovers, still managed to throw for 348 yards against the Ducks.
But Oregon has found a way to limit defenses with not just turnovers, by coming up with big stops and preventing top players from picking them apart. The Ducks defense contained the then-No.7 Arizona Wildcats offense in the Pac-12 Championship game by slowing the run game and burgeoning freshman Nick Wilson. UCLA star quarterback Brett Hundley threw for just 216 yards and also had an interception against the Ducks in Pasadena. With 14:19 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bruins were trailing by 32 points before UCLA made the final score respectable, 42-30. Oregon’s defense has played especially well of late, allowing an average of 17.5 points in their last six game.
An IB Times staff reporter contributed to this report.